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After Five Years of Construction, SEAS Faculty and Staff Begin Transition into New Allston Science and Engineering Complex

Faculty and staff at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have begun moving into their offices at the new Science and Engineering Complex, located in Allston.
Faculty and staff at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have begun moving into their offices at the new Science and Engineering Complex, located in Allston. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Natalie L. Kahn and Simon J. Levien, Crimson Staff Writers

After the coronavirus crisis delayed the opening of Harvard’s new Science and Engineering Complex in Allston, faculty and staff at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have begun transitioning their offices to the new building.

Harvard had intended to open the complex, which has been under construction for roughly five years, this past summer. The coronavirus pandemic, which caused the City of Boston to impose a moratorium on construction projects in the spring of 2020 and has disrupted the University’s operations more broadly, forced Harvard to delay the opening of its new campus, into which Harvard poured roughly $1 billion.

Affiliates began moving into the new engineering complex – which SEAS students were able to glimpse via a virtual tour at sophomore convocation earlier this month – on Nov. 2 of this past year, though many continue to work remotely due to the pandemic.

In its first phase of opening the complex, the school intended to ship all relevant belongings and equipment to Allston by Feb. 5, per SEAS spokesperson Paul Karoff.

SEAS faculty coordinator Allison O. Choat, whose office was originally in Maxwell Dworkin Laboratory, said she and other SEAS administrators began packing up their old offices in November.

“It’s my understanding that our stuff is there,” Choat said, adding that she hopes for a “soft start” to in-person work in the summer. “The vast majority of admin staff are working remotely.”

Some professors with large research operations have begun in-person activities at the SEC. Applied Physics professor David A. Weitz said his new lab at SEC is “operational” and described the new space as “jaw-dropping.”

Not all offices have fully transitioned to the new complex, though.

Materials professor David R. Clarke, whose lab was scheduled to move to the new complex by the end of January, wrote in an email that he has yet to complete his move.

“The move was quite complicated and required specialists to disconnect and re-connect some delicate pieces of equipment,” Clarke said. “It’s not quite as straightforward as moving between apartments!”

The new complex required five years and roughly $1 billion to complete.
The new complex required five years and roughly $1 billion to complete. By Elizabeth X. Guo

Other faculty and staff said professional movers delivered their belongings to the new complex, but they have not seen it in person because they are working from home.

SEAS Director for Education and Research Julia C. Lee wrote in an email that she labeled her boxes in Pierce Hall so that they could be moved to Allston. The last time she was in the SEC, she wrote it was “under construction pre-quarantine.”

“Beyond that I have no idea what my office looks like nor where it is beyond what I have been shown on a blueprint,” Lee wrote.

Lab administrator Jane Salant wrote in an email she packed up her Cambridge office for “one brief 2-hour period” in October. Her belongings have since been delivered across the Charles River to the new building.

Though Salant has not stepped foot in her new office, she wrote that SEAS Dean Francis J. Doyle III recently gave staff a virtual tour of the new complex.

Though the complex may hold the trappings of an engineering and applied science school, Applied Computer Science professor Petros Koumoutsakos said the building will not come to life until students, faculty, and staff enter its doors.

“Buildings become buildings when there’s people inside them,” he said.

Karoff wrote SEAS will open the complex to its affiliates in adherence to campus protocols, which are determined by public health guidance.

—Staff writer Natalie L. Kahn can be reached at natalie.kahn@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @natalielkahn.

—Staff writer Simon J. Levien can be reached at simon.levien@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @simonjlevien.

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